Shirley’s Spear’s Forfar bridies
SUMMER picnics are often cherished memories: special days when the weather was forever hot and sunny, the whole family got together and the fresh air gave us ravenous appetites. We couldn’t wait to get started on the sandwiches, content with diluted orange squash in a screwtop bottle, while the adults had a Thermos flask of tea. There would be treats like packets of salty crisps, foil-wrapped chocolate biscuits, sticky and melting in the sun, or maybe an apple tart.
Once upon a time, the average working person had few holidays and a special excursion with family or work colleagues might have included a boat trip “doon the water”, a bus or a train ride to the coast. In the Highlands, posh shooting parties would take off to the heather-clad hills with a whole entourage of servants carrying wicker baskets laden with pies, pâtés, fruit cake and gingerbread. Homemade fruit cordials in stoppered bottles provided liquid refreshment, while most men would carry hip flasks containing a tipple of something stronger.
Scotland’s famous Forfar bridie would make a great summer picnic dish: easy to wrap, pack and serve along with a bowl of beetroot and potato salad flavoured with horseradish, to match the great taste of Scotch beef in the open air.
Some say that the Forfar bridie was invented by a lady called Maggie Bridie. They became popular when she sold them at the town’s weekly Buttermarket held in the Angus town. Maggie hailed from the neighbouring village of Glamis. However, some argue that Maggie may never have existed.
Made from butter-rich pastry and filled with Aberdeen Angus beef, the horseshoe-shaped pies were made for celebration meals as a token of good luck. Bridies were baked for a bride’s wedding feast and they remain a traditional part of many wedding menus and are often served at christenings.
Keen to find out more about this famous dish, I recently I drove to Forfar. However, having found the shop belonging to the current generation of Forfar’s family of bridie-bakers, McLaren’s in the High Street, I was dismayed to find it was closed for the annual holiday. I had hoped to ask their opinion on why Forfar is famous for this special pie, but it was not to be.
However, the Meffan Museum opposite the wee shop was open and the attendant on duty was exceptionally helpful. I was delighted to find a fascinating, lifesize replica of a Forfar vennel in the 1800s, with a weaver, a shoemaker and a bridie-baker, to name but a few of the workshops portrayed.
I left with directions to Saddler’s, another famous bridie shop, further up the High Street. With the treasure of a warm bridie in a paper bag, I hastened back to the car, sorely tempted to eat it before I got home, where I later took it apart and tried to work out how it had been baked.
I have found a few recipes, but none of them seems to be the same as all the others. The type of pastry used ranges from shortcrust to flaky and puff, but the one I bought in Forfar seemed to have a hint of water crust in it too. The filling had been made with minced beef and onions, well-seasoned and very tasty – especially cold! I have come across different recipes using beef sliced thinly and then chopped small, rather than minced. All the recipes had one thing in common and that was the unusual addition of a little shredded suet to the filling, together with chopped onion. If you cannot get the real thing, try baking one yourself.
FORFAR BRIDIES (Makes 4) To make the pastry:
325g plain white flour (plus a little extra for rolling)
75g salted Scottish butter
75g shredded beef suet
¼ tsp table salt
3-4 tbsp cold water
1 egg, beaten
1. Sieve flour and salt into a bowl. 2. Dice the butter, which should be just coming to room temperature but not too soft. Add the butter and suet to the bowl. Rub into flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. 3. Add cold water a little at a time and mix to form a soft dough, using the rounded blade of a table knife. 4. Bring the dough together with your fingertips, until it forms a pliable ball and leaves the sides of the bowl clean. 5. Sprinkle a little flour on a board or work surface and knead the dough very gently for a minute, to form a smooth ball. Place inside a polythene bag or wrap in cling-film and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least a hour, or overnight. 6. Before assembling the bridies, divide the dough into four equal pieces and shape into balls, slightly egg-shaped. Set aside.
To make the filling:
450g lean rump steak, best Angus Scotch beef if possible 1 large onion, very finely chopped 75g shredded beef suet Sea salt and black pepper 2 tsp mushroom ketchup, Worcester sauce, or English mustard
1. Remove visible fat from the beef and slice it into long, thin slivers. Chop the slivers of beef into small pieces approximately 1cm wide. 2. Place the beef in a bowl with the chopped onion and shredded suet. Season liberally with salt and black pepper. Add the flavouring of your choice, as listed. Mix together with your fingers, cover and set aside until ready to assemble the bridies for baking.
To bake the bridies:
1. Pre-heat oven to 220°C, Gas mark 7, and grease a large flat baking tray. 2. Dust work surface and rolling pin with a little plain flour. Roll out each small ball of dough into an oval shape, approximately 21cm long x 15cm at the widest. 3. Weigh the rump steak mixture and divide into four equal amounts. Place one portion in the centre of the pastry shape, leaving a good margin on each side and an even greater margin top and bottom. 4. Brush the whole rim of the pastry with a beaten egg using a pastry brush. Fold over the pastry and crimp around the rounded edges to form a tight seal. Lift the pastry parcel on to the prepared baking tray and repeat the process until you have completed all four bridies. 5. Gently ease the prepared bridies into more of a horseshoe shape, once it is on the tray. Make a few small cuts in the top of the bridie to allow steam to escape while baking. Brush the bridie all over with the beaten egg, making sure the crimped edges are sealed well. 6. Place the bridies in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to chill then put in the centre of the hot oven and bake for 15 minutes. 7. Cover the pastry lightly with a sheet of non-stick baking parchment or greaseproof paper. Turn down the heat to 180°C, Gas mark 4, to cook slowly for a further 30 minutes. Remove the paper and allow to finish browning until well golden, for a final 5-10 minutes. 8. Remove from oven and leave to cool on a wire tray unless you are serving them immediately as a hot main course. Wrap each bridie in a greaseproof paper parcel for a picnic meal-in-one.